Without a doubt, this was the best game of the UP Fighting Maroons this season despite the outcome. And if they have to lose again this season
which is probable (let’s face it), considering they’ll have to face two more teams not named Adamson, it better be this way. They fought valiantly from the tip-off until the very end and gave a good run on the money of the league’s numero uno FEU Tamaraws. They may have came up short in swinging the upset axe; however, they certainly have earned everyone’s adulation with their impressive display.
I must admit I did not give UP any chance, even the slightest, of taking this game away. Pretty sure, I was not the only one. This was against the league-leading FEU, the squad which previously doused the fire off the defending champions and their seven-game winning streak As I’ve mentioned in the game preview, this match might be just a replica of their first round encounter where they played good enough to keep within the striking distance in the first half, only for them to stumble in the second half. I am glad the Fighting Maroons proved me wrong and showed otherwise.
When UP began this game strongly, I was not surprised at all. Not even a fraction. We all knew they were capable of that. We’ve seen this on numerous occasions this season. There was nothing new with JR Gallarza coming off a Mark Juruena screen from the left elbow to the top of the key and hitting triples in the first quarter. (Nonetheless, the huge improvement in his three-point accuracy should definitely be commended.) Their good off-ball movement, their low turnovers and their pretty decent defense. We’ve witnessed all of these before in their first halves.
What totally spelled the difference in this game, as opposed to the other losses this season, is their great display in the second half. As we all know, UP has this reputation of failing to sustain their good start and collapsing towards the endgame. Luckily, it was not the case this time. UP battled toe-to-toe against Tamaraws. Their defense was as solid as you can think of. They were protecting the paint and contesting FEU jumpers. It also helped their cause that Mike Tolomia was riddled with foul trouble. However, Mac Belo, who underperformed in the first three quarters, turned it on in the closing stages. Add to that are lucky breaks that favored them in the late, highlighted by Achie Inigo‘s off-the-glass three from the right wing to stave off UP’s upset plans.
Individual Offensive Ratings
Reviewing the Keys to the Game
BATTLE FOR BOARDS
The rebounding battle was clearly won by the Tamaraws. But we have to give credit UP for putting up decent rebounding numbers, especially to Juruena (5/22/13 rebounding split) and Andrew Harris (26/27/27).
WHO TOUCHES BELO?
It wasn’t until the final quarter when Mac Belo delivered the goods for Tamaraws and broke the hearts of UP. For three quarters, he was struggling and committing a pile of turnovers as Gallarza kept an eye on him for most parts. He was barely making an impact as he was often patrolling at the wings. But come fourth quarter, he took the matter in his own hands and showed everyone why he is a Season 77 MVP candidate. He was a force inside and outside which UP could not contain. Dave Moralde, who was tasked to guard him during that quarter, was a clear mismatch against the athletic and skilled FEU forward.
LESS MIKE REYES MAYBE?
For the first time this season, it was not Mikee Reyes who started at the point guard spot for UP. It was rookie Diego Dario, fresh from his stint at FIBA Under 17 championship, who was tasked to steer UP’s offense at the start. This change paid off greatly as he provided the starting unit a point guard who has a pass-first mentality and has less tendencies to go wild. On the other end, he impressed with his wide coverage on defense, and his ability to close out on FEU shooters because of his agility. He also made timely baskets (including the triple that gave the Fighting Maroons its last lead of the game in the fourth quarter) and dimes to stay within striking distance from FEU
Meanwhile, Mikee did his best impersonation of the UP chuckers of previous years (which must be named) as he shot a miserable 5/21 from the field, including six misses from the downtown in just below 20 minutes of playing time. He forced a lot of bad shots from all locations, which led to his benching in the third quarter. With Diego rising and Mikee going the opposite direction, perhaps the changing of guards (pun not intended) in UP would come as soon as the next game.
While this ended as another loss for UP, we should not take away the fight they put on for four quarters. Surely, like the Fighting Maroons, the Tamaraws gave it all until the end. It was just fortunate for them that they have a guy like Belo, who is just a class of his own, to propel them to their ninth victory of the season.
With three games remaining on UP’s Season 77 schedule, the door to coach Rey Madrid’s three-win guarantee is narrow. But with a performance like this, it is not foolish to hope that they can win at least two more games to attain their goal.
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